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Last year’s Vuelta a España winner Alberto Contador and the former double Giro d’Italia champion Ivan Basso both make their 2015 season debuts in the Vuelta a Andalucia on Wednesday, with the former looking to test his form against Tour rival Chris Froome and the latter seeking to help his new team-mate to win.
Basso moved over to the Tinkoff-Saxo squad over the winter, ending a long association with the Cannondale team.
The latter came to a halt and entered into a merger of sorts with the Garmin-Sharp squad, producing the newly-titled Cannondale-Garmin team, but even had that not happened Basso still needed change.
The Italian has stagnated in recent years but hopes to get back to a better level in the new surroundings of Tinkoff-Saxo.
His move has given him new motivation and also exposed him to different training and race advice.
Both he and Contador report themselves content with their winter work and say they are eager to get things underway in Wednesday’s split stages.
The five day, 2.1-ranked event begins with a 121.3 kilometre stage from La Rábida (Palos de la Fra) to Hinojos, and is then followed by an afternoon 8.2 kilometre time trial to Coria del Río.
“After many workouts, I want to compete, which is what I like,” said Contador, who turned 32 in December.
“Maybe I’m a little later compared with last year, because we have done the preparation like this, always thinking about the Giro and the Tour.”
Contador is vying to win both events this year, a feat only achieved by seven riders in history.
Before then, he will be up against Chris Froome this week. He scored an important psychological blow against his rival in last year’s Vuelta and wants to further underline his resurgence in Spain.
“You always like to compete with the best in the world and Froome is one of the biggest rivals,” he said.
“We have to see how advanced his preparation is. But it’s nice with an early battle – cycling also need these clashes, as happens in football with rival teams.”
Apart from the time trial, the general classification is also likely to be shaped by the mountain stages on days three and four.
The first of those runs to Alto Hazallanas and concludes with a tough 16.7 kilometre climb. The following day takes the riders to the steep five kilometre finishing climb of Alto de Allanadas.
Basso spoke about his motivation and desire to prove a point.
“Since the moment I joined Tinkoff-Saxo, my ambition has been to reach the start of the season with all available force to do my best for the team.
“I’m very happy to kick off the season beside our extraordinary captain, Alberto Contador.
“I think we are at a very good level right now, as a group, and personally I feel very well.”
The duo will be joined by Jesús Hernandez, Sergio Paulinho, Evgeny Petrov, Matteo Tosatto and Michael Valgren.
Directeur sportif Steven de Jongh is clear about the objective, saying that the team will definitely aim for a top spot in the general classification.
“Tinkoff-Saxo goes to Ruta del Sol with that goal,” he underlined. “Alberto is ambitious about this race and wants a good start in a season in which he has very high ambitions.
“The goal is to have a squad with good teamwork and I feel confident we can achieve this.”
It’s been months since Contador and Basso last raced, but the latter said that the winter had gone very well for the whole team and that things are on course.
“We’ve given thorough attention to every detail and I think these efforts will pay off,” he said.
“I feel ready to take up the challenge and help Albert to reach the goal we have in Ruta del Sol, which is basically to win.”